Things to Do in Your First Month as an F3 Doctor
Hi, I’m Amelia. I’m an F5 doctor and Clinical Lead at Messly. Since leaving training I have worked as a locum doctor in both Community and District General hospitals, as a clinical fellow, and in private industry.
In this article, I’ll share my tips for your first month as an F3 doctor to help you on this incredible journey of personal and professional growth.
🤗 Enjoy the ride
Congratulations, you’ve made it! After years of gruelling rotas, incessant demands on your time and attention, and constant adapting to knew situations, you have finally started your F3 Year.
I remember the lead up to my F3 Year, and all of the thoughts and feelings that came with entering a new phase of my career. I’d been looking forward to my F3 Year since starting work as a doctor and my desire to get out of training had only grown with my mounting burnout and pandemic trauma.
So I was caught off guard when I started to feel panic about my impending freedom. In a moment of weakness my sub-conscious re-branded it as unemployment, isolation, and self-sabotage. I’d planned to take a bit of a break before starting locum work, but with no locum shifts lined up I suddenly felt reckless and foolish, and that I’d struggle to earn money.
Becoming an F3 can be both frightening and exciting - feelings that generally sit outside of the comfort zone of most non-adrenaline junkies. I’d felt stress before, but that wasn’t what I was feeling now. It was ‘thrill,’ which is like walking on a tightrope - one side of which is positive and the other is negative.
The best advice I got at the time was to enjoy the free-fall, the sense of uncertainty, and the loss of control. Like skydiving, it can be both terrifying and peaceful at the same time depending on your mindset. If you allow panic to set in then the fall is torture, but if you remind yourself that you are safe and everything will be fine, then you can embrace the craziness of what you’re doing and enjoy the experience of flying.
Initially, I tried to book in as much locum work as I could. But when I truly started to embrace the mindset of ‘enjoy the free-fall,’ I allowed myself (for the first time in a decade) to be untethered to a schedule and to simply exist and experience all of the feelings that came to me. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but in a good way.
🙏 Look back with gratitude
Starting your F3 Year, you may be naturally inclined to look forward, make plans, and think about the future. That was certainly the case for me. For most of my F2 Year, I was so preoccupied with what was coming next that I didn’t really embrace the ending of an era that had changed me so much.
It’s great to be excited and thoughtful about what is coming, but this transition is also a natural resting point to appreciate how far you have come and to congratulate yourself on your many achievements in your career to date.
Think about all of your skills that were once unfamiliar and difficult but are now second nature.
- Prepping notes
- Prioritising a jobs list
- Running a ward round
- Doing an A-E assessment
- Taking bloods
- Discussing a scan with a radiologist
- Interpreting results, and so much more.
You’ve up-skilled in so many ways over the last few years and that growth deserves acknowledgement.
As an F3 doctor you’ll develop new skills; in self-management, self-advocacy, self-protection, self-motivation, and balancing your work and personal lives (to name a few). You may feel uncertain about these things now but I promise you will learn these skills and master life as a non-trainee over time, just like you did with all of those other skills over the course of your foundation training.
Over the last few years you’ve not only become a more confident and capable doctor but you’ve likely made friendships that will last a lifetime, and had experiences that you’ll never have again. I remember this really hit home for me when I was assisting in theatres on a routine operation and I realised that I would likely never live another experience like that one ever again.
I started to pay attention to all of the ‘last times’ that I would do things and suddenly even the mundane or tedious tasks had a whiff of sentimental value to them. The last time I’d be on a team with a friend, or the last time I’d work with an unkind colleague. The last night shift, the last re-written drug chart, or the last view of the sunrise from the ward office. These milestones gained significance and stand out in my memory years later. I am glad that I took a moment to pay attention to them while they were happening.
🩺 Design the future you want
Yes, I know I just said how wonderful it is to look back but now I will also argue the case for looking forward too. Because an F3 Year is an exciting time of change. It’s something you’ve likely been looking forward to for a long time and there is likely a particular reason that you’ve decided to make this decision for your career.
For me, I was burned out and wanted a break. I wanted freedom and I wanted to re-align myself with the person I felt I was before Medicine took everything out of me. But wanting ‘to feel whole again’ is not really a SMART goal and for a long time in my F3 Year I struggled to figure out what exactly I needed to do in order to get there.
I would advise that you spend some time at the start of your F3 journey reflecting on what you want to achieve from your time out of training and jotting down some actionable steps you need to take to get there.
If your goal is to buy a house then perhaps those steps might be:
👉 Speak to a mortgage advisor
👉 Establish a financial plan to maximise my mortgage potential
👉 Find work that will help me meet my financial targets
👉 Set days aside for property viewings
👉 Research things that might get in the way of my achieving my goals
If your goal is to improve your chances of getting the training post of your dreams, then maybe you need to:
👉 Find out what other doctors have done that has helped or hindered their applications
👉 Research application points and deadlines
👉 Reach out to specialty departments for locum work or fellowship opportunities
👉 Set aside some time for exam and interview preparation
👉 Audit your portfolio and focus on specific areas like research, teaching, or references
If your goal is more like mine was, then consider:
👉 Try out new activities and hobbies you’ve been curious about but not had time to try
👉 Book a holiday to physically distance yourself from your day-to-day life
👉 Establish your appraisal work and learning requirements so you don’t feel lost or behind at the end of the year
👉 Attend Messly’s F3 Pulse Check webinar and set SMART goals for the year.
👉 Start thinking about your F4 plans and mark your calendar with key dates for decisions i.e. training applications or finding work overseas in Australia or New Zealand.
🗓 Make a schedule
One of the harder things about being an F3 doctor, and in particular an F3 locum doctor, is that you take on the new role of your own personal rota-coordinator. Whether it is to maximise earnings, to counter-balance the subconscious guilt of leaving a contracted job, or naivety about what you can sustainably manage, new F3’s often massively over-schedule themselves with shift work.
As a locum you need to remember to account for time to relax, sleep, take holidays, manage your portfolio, revise for exams, do CPD and e-learning, enjoy hobbies, see friends, do research, do applications, go to webinars and courses, attend meetings, and just have fun. For trainees, many of these things are already incorporated into their pre-designed rotas, but F3s seem to forget that these are also important to account for.
It took me a long time to truly establish the right work-life balance for me. For several years I swung between giving away more than I could mentally and physically afford, to feeling I wasn’t giving enough. Both ends of the spectrum were unfulfilling (yes, even too much relaxing can take a mental and physical toll).
It took me quite a long time to achieve true balance and to figure out what I could give to my work in a way that felt sustainable for my personal circumstances. But when I did find it I also found that I had more energy, more enjoyment, and more fulfilment from my work than ever before.
If you aren’t sure where to start then try:
- booking in some time for rest,
- considering the bare minimum you need to work in order to afford your mortgage or rent and other expenses,
- devoting some time to writing an F3 PDP,
- establishing your appraisal requirements for the year,
- getting your medical portfolio up to date with your work and and references from foundation training.
⛓ Build your team
It can be scary venturing out on your own. During my F3 Year I felt lost and lonely a lot of the time. I’d moved to a new region of the UK during a global pandemic, I had no family nearby, no supervisors to look out for me, no friends doing what I was doing, no named appraiser I could contact, and no clue what I was doing.
I wish that I’d started building my network of support sooner. I wish I’d registered with my locum agency earlier, reached out to the online network of non-training doctors sooner. I wish I’d found my mentor, contacted my referees, made some local friends, hired an accountant, spoken to a mortgage advisor, and been allocated an appraiser sooner.
I expected myself to have all of the answers, or at least be able to figure it all out by myself but this was an unfair and unrealistic expectation to put on myself. In reality, there were lots of people around me who were waiting to offer their help and support - I just didn’t know to reach out at the time.
You may feel alone as an F3, but there is support and guidance available to you if you just ask for it. Great places to start are Facebook groups (like these: F3 doctors, F3 in Aus and NZ, Tea & Empathy, and Alternative Careers for Doctors), the Messly Team (firstname.lastname@example.org), your locum agent or agency, your family, and your foundation colleagues who may also be starting their F3 adventures too.
You should also check out our F3 Timeline which gives you monthly updates, deadlines, tasks, and reading that it tailored to where you are in your F3 Year. You can find information about applications to specialty training or jobs overseas, tips on mortgages and taxes, information about portfolios and appraisals, and support through webinars and courses.
You can learn more about being an F3 doctor in our F3 Hub. We would love to know your thoughts on this article, so please feel free to get in touch with us at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments you want to share.
This article is part of a wider series of comprehensive guides and information to help doctors ensure their F3 year is a success. We cover everything from initial planning, options for moving abroad, help with finding work, and tips for making the most of the experience.
Click here to visit our F3 Resource Hub to explore the full list of guides and articles.